Monthly Archives: September 2009

Am I an Evil Capitalist?

News headlines: Earthquake and Tsunami in the Pacific region.  Heard it on the news yesterday, half-heard it again today (just this minute checked – it seems there’s been another earthquake, bigger disaster than yesterday’s).

My reaction?  Well, “will this affect my asia-pacific investments?” did cross my mind.  Oops!  In my defence, it only crossed my mind about 24 hours after I first heard the news, and I haven’t checked my portfolio since thinking it.  And (barring the vanishingly unlikely event that it had hit my brother and sister-in-law in NZ without my having heard about it), this is my only link to the region.

But ultimately, this is surely the reaction of an Evil Capitalist!

I shall have to atone the Evil Capitalist way, with a contribution when the charity appeals come round.  Having received a small bonus in my August pay-packet, I had already budgeted that for charitable contributions, and this looks like a candidate for a Deserving Cause.

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Mac RIP

For a little over three years, I’ve had the Mac laptop.  Little shiny white affair: small for a modern laptop, but the sharp screen quality compensates for that, by enabling me to read much smaller print than is comfortable on a desktop machine.

Much to my surprise, I never liked the MacOS user interface very much: much of it seems to be a generation behind the Linux world, simple operations like cut&paste are a faff, and above all there’s the screaming inadequacy of control of windows and focus.  So I wouldn’t choose it for the desktop.

But on the laptop, the defects have been more than compensated by hardware (and drivers) that just work.  Minor conveniences like that great Mac power supply.  Much more importantly, none of the kind of flakiness and perpetual need to take it apart and jiggle some internal connection that characterised its predecessor, a Dell Inspiron that was just plain shoddy.  Decent build quality matters on a laptop!

But last night it suddenly died.  First some ticking, then in less than a minute it froze up with a spinning ¨busy¨ cursor, none of the open apps responded, and it refused to reboot.  Took it in to the local Mac shop this morning, and they extracted the hard disc and found it dead – ouch!  They can replace the disc for sixty squids, but it means I´ll have to faff about with reinstalling lots of apps, setting up prefs, etc.  Fortunately there is (I think) only a few hours of actual work on there with no duplicate, but I´m now down to one copy of quite a lot of important stuff, so spending this morning on a spot of backup!

Body disintegrating?

This must be part of advancing middle-age.

The tennis-elbow is better than it was: I can even (with care) sleep on my right side!  But I still have my longstanding issues: can’t sleep in the wrong bed, sit in wrong chair, etc without the back suffering; even the wrong shoes give me back pain, and pretty-much any collar or wristwatch gives me neck pain.

Well, I’m used to all that.  Indeed, the difficulty with other people’s choice of desks and chairs is one of my main reasons for avoiding employment in a regular office: at home, I get to choose, and I can move around when I need a change of posture.  I last sat long-term in someone else’s office in 1998, and my back has in fact been much better since then, despite the expanding paunch.

But now it’s cramp.  I’m not at all used to that, at least when not engaged in exceptional activity.  But today, and once or twice recently while out cycling, I find that anything substantial in certain pockets leads to cramp in the leg.  Today it was the ‘phone: I was finding it annoying in my right above-the-knee pocket, so moved it to the left, and after a mile or so had cramp in the left leg (ouch)!  Moving it back to the right fixed that, but for how long?  Will I start finding cycling or even walking a problem?  Bah, Humbug 😦

Apache module updates

I’ve just gone public with version 3.1 of mod_proxy_html, my most widely-used module outside the Apache core.

The main change from version 3.0 and earlier versions is that internationalisation support is now delegated to mod_xml2enc, a module that manages all aspects of character encoding on behalf of mod_proxy_html and other libxml2-based filter modules.  This represents a significant simplification from version 3.0, and brings fixes of bugs that might affect non-unicode users of non-latin-based languages.

Users of earlier versions should note a couple of configuration changes:

  1. You will probably need to load mod_xml2enc.
  2. You should NOT use Apache’s general purpose filter configuration such as SetOutputFilter or FilterProvider/FilterChain.  Instead, use the new ProxyHTMLEnable directive, and mod_proxy_html will configure both mod_xml2enc and itself for you.  Configuring the filter chain “by hand” is now unsupported.

In other Apache module news, mod_fcgid has had it’s first release at apache.org since being donated to the HTTPD project.  This is an exciting module not just because of what it does (implements FastCGI – a hugely widespread and useful function), but also in its provenance.  It’s a major contribution coming from China, and a demonstration of the power of the Web to bring developers together across barriers of culture, politics and language!

My esteemed colleague Jeff Trawick has blogged about the mod_fcgid release.

Executive Slums

It’s official.  The kind of “luxury” pad a hardworking professional aspires to is not fit to house the homeless.

I’ve spent most of my adult life in substandard accommodation costing most of my net income, so I should know.  Now Birmingham City Council has said explicitly that flats built for hardworking ever-exploited taxpayers don’t meet the minimum standard for council housing.

Reminds me of something I vaguely recollect from my childhood.  We were somewhere unfamiliar, and my mother said with confidence that the houses around us must be council, because no commercial developer would have left so much green space between them!  Some things don’t change ….

Newton’s blackberries

Blackberries + gravity = a bonus apple 🙂

I was out this evening picking blackberries by the canal, when I heard a crashing in the trees nearby.  Turning to look, I saw something light green and round fall into the water.  After momentarily going under, it bobbed up to the surface and started to float downstream.

I’d have thought “tennis ball” if it hadn’t been obviously too heavy for that, and if there had been human activity in the area from whence it came.  As it was, apple seemed altogether more likely.  It looked good, so I found a suitable spot slightly downstream, took the sandals off, waded in and retrieved it.

It still looks good, and will complement the blackberries nicely, though I’ll have to supplement it with something from the greengrocer to match the quantity of blackberries.

HTML5 Websockets for Apache

Since HTML5 websockets seem to be attracting some interest, I expect some of my readers may be interested to hear there’s now an implementation for the Apache webserver.

It’s a third-party module, written in Python by developers not associated with the apache team itself.   It’s hosted at Google Code (here) and labelled experimental[1].

This is merely to draw attention to it.  I’m in no position to vouch for it myself.  Caveat Reader.

[1] But what else could it be, given the experimental state of the candidate standard being implemented?

Seaside encounter

Just been spending a weekend with the parents in Brighton, ten minutes walk from the beach.  The second-best[1] thing about this is the chance for a good swim in the sea.  And the weekend has seen some great weather for it,  too.

Saturday was slightly rough, with breakers sufficient to pummel me a bit.  But past the breakers it’s beautiful: compared to our local rivers, the warmer water and extra buoyancy make for a lovely spot of luxury!  I much enjoyed bobbing about on the waves for a first swim.

Coming out, I went to sit on the beach, whereupon two small girls came and asked what the water was like.  I told them it was lovely, and eventually they believed me.  They then disappeared up the beach, and reappeared dressed for a dip.  That left me really wondering whether I should encourage them in or the opposite: unless they have the technique to ride the waves, those breakers would surely have them down and possibly in distress – and I don’t even know if they can swim!

Eventually an adult appears: the mother of one of them is happy for them to go as far as they want.  But she gets called back to the urgent needs of a younger child, leaving me with the two girls on the waters edge.  They only go half-in, and one of them does get knocked down by a wave.  She’s not bothered by it, confirming mum’s view that they can cope.  And we all have fun.

In a country where the meeja and government run a witch-hunt against adults having contact with children, I find this kind of healthy encounter as refreshing as a really good swim.  And I expect these girls, not surrounded by paranoia, will grow into healthy, well-adjusted teenagers and later adults, unlike some of those contemporaries who are denied any kind of spontaneous human contact.

Sunday and Monday (yep – long weekend) I went back again for a swim.  The water was by now much calmer (kite-surfers were gone, canoeists were out instead), and I had no more human encounters.

[1] I have to say second-best, as they sometimes read the blog 🙂

EU tilting at windmills

OK, I confess.  I didn’t expect the EU to worry about the Oracle-Sun takeover.  At least, not more than it is obliged to do by virtue of the sheer size of the companies.  Unlike the once-rumoured IBM-Sun deal, there are few areas of major overlap between Oracle and Sun, and none in which the companies are so dominant as to smell of monopoly.  The US competition authorities raised no concerns, and I’d’ve expected the EU ones to do likewise.

Well, OK, there’s Java, over which some have concerns.  And there’s the database.  It’s true: Oracle and Sun own two market-leading databases: Oracle leads in the enterprise, while Sun (MySQL) leads on the Web.  This latter is what apparently causes concern to the European Commission.

So what’s the worst that could happen?  Oracle lets MySQL wither on the vine and supports only a proprietary derivative at a high price, thereby depriving the MySQL community?  Erm, that’s exactly what caused concern amongst some when the deal was first announced!  But it’s hardly realistic: MySQL’s open-source heritage ensures it can’t be killed so long as it has a community of interested users.  Indeed, there are already MySQL forks out there, and MariaDB, Drizzle, or AN Other could stand to take the place of the original amongst the community if Oracle were to try anything too dumb.

As could PostgreSQL, or maybe some alternative disruptive technology we haven’t thought of in this context.

I have no doubt Oracle is well aware of this, and that they didn’t get to be a 100-billion-dollar company by shooting themselves quite so spectacularly in the foot.

No, the biggest risk to competition lies in the cloud of uncertainty that prevails while the deal is in limbo.  By worrying about an Oracle/Sun monopoly and delaying the deal, the EU commission could inadvertently come close to handing one to IBM.